Archive for September, 2014

Neglected works

September 29, 2014

On Monday 15/9 to hear Stephen Hough in recital at a packed Angel Place.

The program was described by Hough when introducing an encore as a “Chopin Debussy sandwich” (or was it a Debussy Chopin sandwich?). Sticking with that metaphor, the Chopin was the filling, with the Ballades 2 and 1 coming before interval (in that order, giving a big first-act closer) and 3 and 4 after. This was preceded in the first half by Debussy’s La plus que lente and Estampes, and followed in the second by the Children’s Corner Suite and L’Isle joyeuse.

Obviously, with the possible exception of the first Debussy, none of these could be described as neglected works and indeed the program could hardly have been more popular.

I enjoyed it. Stephen Hough is a pianist I have long admired. There is a kind of spikiness (not in the Anglo-Catholic sense) in his playing – an energised articulation especially in the face of more detailed figuration and a tendency to quirkiness. That’s him: it would be possible to imagine more mellifluous Chopin and Debussy but that would not be the point.

The interposition of the interval also brought out a stylistic jump between the two pairs of Ballades.

Mercifully, enthusiastic applause which interrupted the movements of Estampes was suppressed after a final brief outburst after the first movement of Children’s Corner. Maybe the spiky style suited this piece the most.

On Friday 19/9 to the SOH, again to hear Mr Hough, this time playing the Dvořák Piano Concerto with the SSO conducted by Hans Graf. If the SSO was counting on familiarity with the artist to make up for the unfamiliarity of the concerto, that doesn’t seem to have worked – though not embarrassingly empty it was a far from full hall.

The second half was Bruckner 6. Oddly, according to the program, Hans Graf also conducted this work the last time the SSO performed it, in 1996.

I enjoyed both works though I can’t say I was really familiar with either. There was a funny bit about three-quarters into the first movement of the Dvořák when the piano part started digging into emphatic looping triplet figures against an orchestral theme where I thought, “Yes! Brahms!.” (it’s at about 9.44 here) I also liked the slow movement which made me think at first of his Op 68 No 2 but on listening again I think that is just because I knew it. As for the Bruckner, I didn’t quite grasp the ending.

I was bemused by Maxim Boon’s review in Limelight Magazine’s online version where he devoted most of the first half of his unconstrained-by-print-already-lengthy review to complaining that the talents of Hough and the SSO were squandered on such an obscure (and in his view deficient) work.

I thought it was better than that, but that did set me to thinking how narrow the canon is of nineteenth century romantic piano concerti which we hear performed, at least in Sydney. After Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Schumann, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Grieg (and from these I think you can count only about 15 mainstream concerti) the next rung of works pretty much all only appear as obscurities, even if by well-known composers such as Mendelssohn, Strauss, Franck, Scriabin. Doubtless there are some others which I have left out – but we don’t even get to hear the famous Litolff Scherzo live unless there is an ABC Classic FM countdown.

Hough had taken up his phone in the twittersphere against a Scottish vote for independence. He had tweeted beforehand that he was planning a Scottish encore. The outcome of the poll was not then yet known, though by the time he played it, the news was in.

Without having a particular view about what was best for Scotland, I have found the whole politicking over this most amazingly bullying: why should not Scotland have succeeded as a state to the former United Kingdom and why was it assumed that in any divorce, the rump of the kingdom would get to keep everything? Hough’s Scottish piece was by Granville Bantock – about as Scottish as Debussy was Spanish, I would have thought.

On Saturday 20/9 to hear the Australia Ensemble. The main work in the first half was a clarinet quintet from Arthur Benjamin’s student days, exhumed from some library by Ian Munro. I doubt I will hear it again.

In the second half the Ensemble departed from its customary programming of a major chamber work by finishing up with an arrangement by Mendelssohn for piano duet violin and cello of his (also pretty juvenile) first symphony, which interpolated as a scherzo the famous scherzo from his Octet. The Mendelssohn received a (to me) surprisingly warm reception from the audience: I would have preferred something more redblooded and authentically thought-out for its forces.

I regret to say that piano duets are more fun to be in than to witness – there is something a bit inherently heartless about them, perhaps because of the way that each player is forced onto his or her best manners. It’s not as if you ever see two people playing the same violin or double bass. The violin and cello didn’t really have very much to add.

For me the highlight of the night was Roger Smalley’s trio for clarinet, viola and piano.

Dean Newcombe stepped in on clarinet for a sadly still indisposed Catherine McCorkill. It is difficult not to fear the worst which will be sad news indeed.

One month ago

September 26, 2014

Rotation of IMGP0713 Monster the classic view

The earliest digital picture I have found.



He was a placid cat:

Monster and rabbit

Pussy at kitchen window 2005

More nestling:

Monster curled up at Dulwich Hill 2008

monster in blue pot

His first and most popular appearance on this blog:


The last picture, just before we took him to the vet. He was very sick by then: no need to confine him in the hated cat cage in the car. Forty minutes later, he was dead.


The grave, that night:


Cutting back

September 25, 2014

I received a call yesterday from Opera Australia.  I knew what it was about: I had not yet renewed my subscription for 2015.

My subscription series did not include La Boheme (which I have seen in two recent seasons in quick succession) or the abridged-for-children Magic Flute, but it did include productions of Butterfly, Turandot and La Traviata, all of which I have seen numerous times before, and Tosca, seen only last year though at least it was new then.

It also included Anything Goes. That is described in the brochure as a new Australian production though it seems the set at least will be a “refurbished” old New Zealand one. I would be happy to go if OA could nominate some dates when Alan Jones will not appear.

It’s not that I make the mistake of thinking that operas are only to be seen once.

I haven’t yet tired of Moshinsky’s production of La Traviata even though I must have seen it five times in the last 10 years or so and probably a couple of times before that in the 90s.  Otherwise, only Faust and Marriage of Figaro are new and the only other real attraction for me is the revival (after a long break) of Don Carlo[s].

Prices have taken another substantial leap (about 20%). A hefty premium has been put on Don Carlos.  That’s a sign of the further breakdown of the set series subscription model which will only reinforce itself.  It matters little whether one thinks of that as a virtuous or a vicious circle/cycle because I expect what it really reflects is that OA can no longer require people to subscribe to be sure of a decent seat so that the idea of operas across a series cross-subsidising each other is going to disappear over time.

D had been counselling retrenchment on the operatic front, so I took him at his word.

I have only renewed a full series for one seat and taken a mini-subscription for D. I shall probably exchange all three Puccini operas and use one to top up D’s series and the others to see Faust and Don Carlo[s] more than once.





September 15, 2014


It is three weeks today: we still miss our cat.  He is buried in our (rented) garden. “Do you think his body is rotting yet?” asked D yesterday as we stood near the grave.


That’s not him in the dust-pan on the way to it.

He had a rather beguiling habit of nestling. I know that’s not unusual for cats, but we loved him for it.

5 sep second lot from 4gb sd card 072

The King and I and I

September 15, 2014

On Saturday night with D to this musical.

As far as I recall this was part of my “Opera” Australia subscription package – I don’t think I had exchanged the ticket for another date. If so, looking around me, it seemed that I was in the minority.

Judging from the mood of the audience as we left, everyone enjoyed it. I spotted more than a few people dabbing tears from their eyes and indeed I was one of them – tears of sentiment rather than sorrow. That’s a tribute to the book and the music as a heartstring-tugger, even though, on the way through, I wondered what I was doing there – what everyone was doing, oohing and aahing at children and chuckling at “What-what-what” and “Et cetera” running gags.

The first half drove me to drink: it went so slowly (it was a long wait to “Getting to know you”) and squirm-makingly that I had to resort to the hip flask to get me by. The second half was better, with the striking dancing and costumes of “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” “Wonderful” and “Shall we dance.”

As for the cast, Lisa McCune was reasonable (OK, better than that) though vocally a little light on at the top: she moves well. The King’s part is scarcely a singing part so Teddy was rather wasted in it; his gym-fitness came in good stead. It seemed to me Shu Cheen Yu sang “Wonderful” at a rather higher pitch than it is usually set: she showed what a real singer can do even if a few of the words were hard to make out. The juvenile tenor was a bit underwhelming. The conductor (the cast list flyer gave two names without saying which it was) conducted from the piano score. (Just saying.)

South Pacific was much better.

If Opera Australia want to do musicals, I have decided they can do them without me there. In fact, that is evidently the case: there are plenty of other people who are happy to go. I just wish they could go somewhere else and that musicals weren’t driving opera out.


September 11, 2014



That’s the caption beneath this photo, of two angry young people, published with a story about them by Geesche Jacobson in the Sydney Morning Herald in April 2011.

It starts relating how, the day their father died in July 2010, the brother and sister:

were told his former girlfriend intended to claim against his $1.5 million estate, even though his will named his two children as his only beneficiaries.

The sister:

said she was upset and angry. ”It felt so inappropriate … My brother and I haven’t had time to mourn our father.”

That was nine months ago and so far the estate has spent $22,000 in legal fees.


”I think we will win the case. It is just unfair that we will have to go through the whole process,”

[the sister said.]

By the time Justice Lindsay handed down his reasons for judgment in March 2013 (after a trial in the second half of 2012) he found that an amount equal to more than half the fund of $1,407,257.03 or thereabouts available to meet the competing claims (comprising a net estate valued at about $635,718.72 together with superannuation of about $771,538.31) had been spent on lawyer-client costs.

There had been two failed mediations and the brother and sister had joined the proceedings as defendants themselves in addition to the executors. They did this because they were not happy with the settlement that the executors had reached with the “former girlfriend” and her children at one of the mediations.

They lost, though the “former girlfriend” didn’t get everything she asked for (at the trial she asked for enough to buy a flat and a bit extra).

To be fair to the brother and sister, his Honour found their father had concealed from them and their mother the true state of his relationship with the “former girlfriend” and even actively misled them about it. She was not, as in his words they contended, “nothing more than a gold-digging welfare cheat.” The judge held that she was in a de facto relationship with the deceased [sorry: that’s lawyer-talk in these cases which is hard to avoid – I’m sick of calling him “the father,” don’t want to use a pseudonym, and don’t want pronoun confusion to suggest the judge was shacked up with her] and had been since 2004. She and her four children from a prior relationship had also been dependent upon and members of the same household as him. This made them eligible for an award from the estate.

She was awarded $175,000; her children $50,000 between them; plus costs.

The brother and sister were left to pay their own costs and repay their mother with what was left over after the executor’s costs were paid from the remainder of the estate.

On my very rough reckoning, that probably is an outcome of brother and sister – not more than $500K, “ex-girlfriend” and her children – $225K less the shortfall between what they had to pay their lawyers and what they recovered from their costs from the estate – maybe they got $175K by the end between them, and lawyers – $725K or more.

That’s inappropriate.

But what I think is really inappropriate is Geesche Jacobson’s original partisan story. How did it come to be written?


September 10, 2014


D is responsible for this renovation of a broomhead. I admire his practical ingenuity. That is his personal talent, but I can’t help thinking that growing up in China in the 60s and 70s has something to do with it as well.

Is this rape?

September 10, 2014

Not that there is an offence specifically by that name any more.

A bizarre case, reported from the first bail hearing. It is a tangled tale and one-sidedly related, but the headline charge is that the defendant, male and 22, created a fictional female facebook identity who promised to have sex with a male, 18, if he would have sex with a man. The 18-year-old met the 22 year old, and had sex with him. The 18-year-old told police he would not have consented to the sex if he had not been promised sex with Tayla Edwards [the fictional female] and her friends.

There is more alleged against him which if true would seem to ground more straightforward offences, including blackmail of the 18-year-old by threatening to send his family a video of the sex they had had if he did not have sex with him again.

The 22-year-old is said to be charged with two counts of sexual intercourse without consent. I wonder if in fact he has been charged with an act of indecency without consent. (The video could also be an aspect of this.)

It is said there may be other victims. The defendant has been refused bail.

Belated postscript, August 2016

Turns out it could be rape, in the sense of sexual intercourse and also act or indecency without consent.  See here.  Consent was vitiated by a special statutory provision about fraud (not confined as was traditionally the case to fraud as to the nature of the act or the identity of the person).  In this case the fraud was the existence of the women who it was said would have sex.  The total sentence for all of the conduct was four years and ten months, with a non-parole period of about 2 years and 4 months.


Opera 2014

September 6, 2014


Given the paucity of offerings in next year’s Opera Australia season – a situation which seems likely to continue, as well as present projections of my future financial position, I expect this year will be a high water mark in my opera going.  As (Pinchgut or Sydney Chamber Opera  or other smaller companies aside) opera has now come to end for the year in Sydney, I thought I might make a list, before I forget.

1. Falstaff,  Deutsche Oper Berlin

2. Rusalka, Komische Oper, Berlin

The picture above comes from that production: a truly mindbending moment when the outlines of the proscenium decoration were projected onto the stage and then subjected to a surreal stretching. This is also the first time I have seen a cat brought onto the stage, quickly whisked off and replaced with an ersatz decapitated dead cat whose blood was an ingredient for Jezibaba’s spell.

3. Die Walküre, Leipzig

4. Elektra, Leipzig

5. La Calisto, Munich

6. Der Fliegende Hollaender, Munich

7. Werther, Essen

8. Der Liebestrank, Essen

9. Der Fliegende Hollaender, Essen

10. Lohengrin, Düsseldorf

11. Carmen, Sydney

12.  Turk in Italy, Sydney

12A   Elektra, Sydney (Symphony Orchestra)

13.  Eugene Onegin, Sydney

14.  Rickshaw Boy (骆驼祥子) Beijing

15.  Turandot, Beijing

16   Otello, Beijing

17   Otello, Sydney

18   Rigoletto, Sydney

19   Don Giovanni, Sydney

20   Elixir of Love, Sydney

21    Elixir of Love, Sydney (again)